Archive: November, 2012

A Special Issue of Care

Caring is a special art. If not innate, it can be learned and is an essential relationship ingredient. Some of the ways we care and are cared for are what we explore here.

Most often we have expectations for how it should go. It means our relationship. The problem is not that we have expectations but that they often may be unconscious to us and/or unconscious and untold to our partner. Care relates to how we experienced care and regard when we were children. From the beginning we register how care is expressed to us and between family members. In addition, we also note the needs that went unmet and become stored up unconsciously. These are the ones that are most tender and become so intensely projected onto our partner to satisfy and fulfill. These are the vulnerabilities, the wants and needs that scream out and insist on gaining the right attention now. They were stifled and frustrated before. Now we feel we can finally get them fulfilled. But, it needs explaining and telling our partner about them and even before this, letting them come to our conscious awareness in order to cogently share them.

Therefore, due to the complex clamoring of our own needs, they might conflict with hearing those of our partner. Therefore, even though you love your partner it does not mean you know how to give what she or he wants and needs emotionally. You may not know the package that appeals, be it in words, deeds, surprises, predictable and consistent efforts. It is not just a given. One needs to be carefully taught and to carefully listen.

For example, one partner expects and looks for care to be demonstrated through physical affection and sexual intimacy. Another may need periodic texts or calls during the day to feel connected. Another likes flowers weekly and another to be taken for dinner or a surprise event planned each week. And, all may need reminders, not because they do not care, but because their own needs for care come to the fore as well and often look different from their partner. This all is a negotiation between our own care needs and those of our partner so all can get met.

As we approach the Christmas season that has become a time of gift giving more than spiritual attention, we tend to focus on what to give and what we will get. In a way, this may be an opportunity to evaluate the giving to each other that can occur all year long. Each partner can be more attentive and show care—not through a gift per se but through emotional regard and respect. This means setting up times for careful listening and finding ways of showing care and affection consistently, not only at holiday times.

So, this issue of care might propel you to first sit with yourself and then with your partner and discuss, share and figure out how you can meet each other’s needs, to increase understanding and fill in the unknowns with tenderness and mutual regard.

Susan Schwartz Ph.D.

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On Being Attuned to Each Other

The effort it takes to be kind and supportive is one that goes a long way. It means just participating in things, events, projects, thoughts, ideas and conversations that are special with our partner. Or, it might entail going places we would not go ourselves, as it would not be our preference. We might attend primarily because our partner is interested. Or, it means making a special something that is not our favorite but we know is our partner’s. Rather than being a description of sacrifice, this is one of deliberate and meaningful regard of self and other.

All these efforts take thought, consideration and conscious awareness of our partner. Something that is of no stress for us might be hugely stressful to our partner. Something we love may be what he or she disregards. Yet, what a small thing it is to pay attention and provide the support to be in tune with our partner. Even if we disagree, we might voice this as another viewpoint without squashing the enthusiasm of our partner. What an opportunity to give to our partner rather than discourage or disparage just because it is not our way.

The previous situations describe a psychological principle that begins when we are born called attunement. It means getting enough of the correct mirroring and feeling from experiencing close enough connection with parents. Attunement originates from the parent to the child but the child also sends cues of need and desire to the parent. The same principle happens in adulthood when we send cues to our partner. As adults we might ask the following questions. Are the cues honored and how? Are they picked up? Do we misinterpret? Do we fail to explain by expressing our feelings?

The combination of misunderstandings and understandings of when attunement is on and when it is off have large effects. They are part of the small but significant pathways necessary for establishing communication. When misaddressed, they can cause havoc between people. On the other hand, looking out for them and paying attention can bring us closer to our partner and to ourselves. We gain in the areas of reflection and awareness that the whole process of being attuned requires of us. We gain by listening to the voice, the body language, the distancing techniques and emotions and the ones that draw us closer.

Attunement does not rely on the intellect of psychological knowledge per se. It relies essentially on the instinctual cognition. It is basic and cuts through the artifice and façade that we may adopt due to hurt or pain. Attunement is being there, present, with support, honesty and truth. It is the bedrock of love. Being attuned means paying attention to the body, mind and soul. It is not fancy but the intricacies bring about growth, and can be difficult.

The simplest expressions oftentimes are more complex than we realize yet the simple and the complex bring connection and the feelings of attunement in the richest sense.

Susan Schwartz, Ph.D.

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